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Nina Simone once said "an artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.” Without a doubt, Maya Angelou's work did just that. With singular grace and style, she penned lyrical poems and rhythmic prose. And she captured the complex dimensions of life--love, loss, separation, abuse, joy, intimacy, liberation, oppression. Her work is deeply political. From the necessary critiques of American democracy ("America," "Family Affairs," "These Yet to Be United States") to her carefully painted depiction of Black women's unique isolation within the American body politic ("Our Grandmothers"), Angelou's work shows the various ways in which the personal is always political. As one reads the collection, it becomes clear that Black Southern Womanhood served as a source of inspiration for much her work. Images of Blackness, womanhood, and the South are visceral throughout. When I was in elementary school, I memorized the poem "Woman Work" and recited it at a contest. All these years later, reading this poem within the larger collection gave me a whole new perspective and appreciation of it. Angelou's writing is an anthology of Black feminist liberation texts, a productive actor within itself. What a blessing.
I tried to select a favorite poem or line, and it was impossible to do. So I'll quote one that left an indelible mark on me:
Cotton rows crisscross the world And dead-tired nights of yearning Thunderbolts on leather strops And all my body burning
Sugar cane reach up to God And every baby crying Shame the blanket of my night And all my days are dying.